Alberta Premier Danielle Smith attends her Stampede pancake breakfast in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 10, 2023. Smith says she believes every Canadian premier is frustrated with what she calls "federal interference" into provincial affairs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta’s Smith decries ‘federal interference’ ahead of premiers’ meeting

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith believes she’ll have allies in her battle against so-called federal overreach when she attends this week’s meeting of provincial and territorial premiers in Winnipeg.

Smith made the comments Monday at the annual Premier’s Stampede Breakfast in Calgary, where she flipped pancakes for a crowd of hundreds just hours before her scheduled departure for the three-day premiers’ conference.

“I’m so delighted to be going to the Council of the Federation this week, because I can tell you the thing that has surprised me the most is that it doesn’t matter what political stripe the premiers have, every single one of them is frustrated with federal interference into their business,” Smith told reporters.

“I’ve seen Saskatchewan push back, and I think increasingly you’ll see the other provinces push back as well.”

Smith is fresh off a private meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was also in Calgary on Friday to flip pancakes and engage in some Stampede politicking.

After that meeting, Smith released a statement saying the federal government still refuses to bend on its overall greenhouse emissions reduction targets and milestones, as well as its commitment to achieving a net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

Alberta has said Ottawa’s targets and time frames are unachievable, and has laid out its own plan for getting the energy-producing province to net-zero by 2050.

“We’ll align with a 2050 target, but (Trudeau) has got to meet us part way as well, by doing it in a way that’s reasonable and works for our economy,” Smith said Monday.

“We’re just not going to do anything that is going to damage our economy or do anything that’s going to indicate that our oil and gas sector is going to be phased out.”

Smith said there have been positive developments recently in what has been a generally frosty relationship between her government and the Trudeau Liberals.

She said she is pleased the federal government has agreed to form a bilateral working group with Alberta to develop a framework to incentivize investment in carbon capture and storage, as well as other emissions-reducing technologies.

She added she was also pleased by Trudeau’s seeming openness to the idea of nuclear technology — through the use of small modular reactors — being part of the overall climate change solution in Alberta.

“That says to me that there can be a path forward for all of us,” she said.

But she added her government will not back down from its stated stance that oil and gas development, as well as electricity, fall under provincial jurisdiction. She said Alberta remains adamant that a promised federal cap on oil and gas emissions, as well as any “too aggressive” net-zero electricity regulations, would be unconstitutional.

“They can take us to court if they want … but I don’t think they’ll have a leg to stand on, quite frankly,” Smith said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has also pushed back against the federal government’s climate targets, calling Ottawa’s plan for a clean electricity grid unrealistic. The province has released its own alternative plan to get to a net-zero grid by 2050 instead.

And premiers in Atlantic Canada have called on the federal government to suspend or slow down its implementation of the new Clean Fuel Standard, which came into effect July 1 and will require a 15-per-cent cut in the emissions intensity of automotive fuels sold in Canada by 2030.

But Smith said there are areas where the provinces can work with the federal government on emissions reduction. She said she is looking forward to speaking with B.C. Premier David Eby to learn more about how to balance reducing emissions with a growing liquefied natural gas industry.

There may also be opportunities down the road to partner with B.C. and Manitoba on interprovincial electricity grid connections, which could potentially help Alberta green its electricity system by importing hydro power from other provinces.

“These are all answers. But they’re not answers that can happen overnight,” Smith said.

“And that’s why as long as we’re taking steps in that direction, the 2050 target is achievable and reasonable.”

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